Two Firsts in Running For Me- My First Turkey Trot and My First 8k!

You would think since I’ve been running for so many years now that I would have run at least one Turkey Trot by now. I could see not running an 8k before because it’s not a common race distance, however. Like most places, there are many options for turkey trots where I live so why did I choose this one? Since I wasn’t able to run so many other races I had wanted to this year for one reason or another I was interested in this race in particular because they didn’t keep increasing the race fee as race day approached. It was simply about timing and money (like so many other things in life).

In true turkey trot fashion, the race was Thanksgiving morning and I didn’t register until the day before, when I also registered my daughter and picked up our race packets bibs. Only people who had registered by a certain date in November (maybe the 9th?) were guaranteed race shirts but I was told to ask if they had any extras after the race. So race bibs in hand, (and nothing else), we were out of the running store and went back home where I continued prepping foods for Thanksgiving dinner the next day.

With a 9 am race start only ten minutes from my home, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m so used to being in another city for a race and having to figure out logistics on getting to and from the race that it felt strange. Although I did run a relatively local race in May, it was a night race and about 40 minutes from my house.

The weather on race morning was ideal for racing, in the upper 40’s, sunny, with no discernible wind. It warmed up quickly, though, and within an hour had warmed up to the mid-50’s. It was funny because I donned my fleece ear warmer headband, Turtle Glove mittens, Buff around my neck, long-sleeve shirt, and tights, while my hot-blooded daughter wore a tank top and shorts.

There was a one-mile walk mostly for young children but I saw many adults walking it without kids as well before the 8k started so they all finished around 8:50 and were handed yellow finisher ribbons (tiny, only maybe one inch by three inches). While we were standing by the start/finish area my daughter noticed the timing mat and how it was only on one small area. “Does everyone have to go over that mat at the beginning?” she asked. “Yes, that’s the timing mat. You know that,” I replied. “But it’s not very wide across. How is everyone going to fit through that?” she asked. Just then the announcer said, “Everyone from the one-mile walk has finished. We’ll play the national anthem then begin promptly at 9:00. Please let the elite runners go first. I repeat, please let the elite runners go first and everyone else go behind them,” just as a handful of 20’ish males and a couple of young-looking females gathered at the front of the group. There were 650 runners and walkers at this race (not including those doing the one-mile walk) so it wasn’t a small crowd.

The national anthem was played over a loud speaker (no in-person singer), the race announcer said something incoherent, and we were off! My daughter and I were fairly close to the start because you just never knew with her and I didn’t know if age group awards were chip-based or gun-based. She had whittled her 5k time down considerably during the recently ended cross country season but she had also been having stomach issues on and off for a week or so before the race. She had also never raced an 8k before and wasn’t sure about how to pace herself. “Do you treat it like a 5k and just hope you don’t burn out at the end or go slower for the first two miles then gradually speed up?” she had asked me a day or so before the race. I said probably the latter but since I also had never raced an 8k, I couldn’t really say for sure.

I had decided before the race to just go by feel. Given the fact that I had shin splints a few months prior and had to take some time off from running to let them heal, I hadn’t been able to get my mileage back up more than about 5 or 6 miles for my long runs and I hadn’t been doing any speed work other than maybe a couple of times the month before. I also knew the course was hilly.

Mile one was downhill and my fastest mile of the race. The next two miles had small rolling hills but were mostly flat. I slowed down to talk to my daughter briefly (she was struggling with nausea and was taking a brief walking break but said she’d be fine) and mile three was actually my slowest of all five miles. Mile four had a small downhill so I was able to pick up some speed then but for the final mile, we had to run back up the hill where we had started. By then my quads were tired and I just wanted to be done. I finished in 43:18, fifth in my age group. My daughter had been able to start running again and passed me sometime during the fourth mile. She finished in 42:47, ninth in her age group, even after walking for two minutes.

There were no medals for this race, only volunteers handing out water bottles at the finish. We had to walk back maybe a quarter of a mile to the local running store that was the main sponsor for the race for post-race foods and more water. There were cereal bars, bananas, oranges, and boxes upon boxes of Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. I picked up some water and an orange and passed on the donut. My daughter said her stomach still wasn’t “right” and she only wanted water. We went over to inquire about shirts and got the last two in our size. After snapping a few photos, we checked our results online (I love when they post them live) and knew we wouldn’t be getting any age group awards so we were on our way.

My daughter said we should make it a tradition to run this race every year. She’ll be going away to college next fall so it would certainly be a possibility when she’s in town for Thanksgiving break in the coming years. I know many other families run turkey trots together every year. I like the idea of going out and moving your body the morning before what is largely considered the biggest day of the year for eating, not that I think you have to “justify” what you eat, but it’s more along the idea of balance. I know I feel better when I can balance out some of the extra calories of the holidays with some outdoor activity, whether it’s running, walking, or hiking. Even more so, I love running with my daughter and that would be the real reason for starting a turkey trot tradition with her.

How many of you ran a turkey trot on Thanksgiving? Do you have a family tradition of running the same turkey trot every year or do you run one by yourself or with friends?

Happy running!

Donna

Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC

Asheville, North Carolina is a city I’ve chosen to return to many times over the years. The only other city I can think of that I’ve chosen to return to more than a couple of times is Charleston, South Carolina. I first went to Asheville when I was in graduate school in Tennessee and I fell in love with it then. For those of you not acquainted with Asheville, it’s in the mountains of western North Carolina. By car, it’s about 2 hours from Charlotte, NC or Knoxville, TN in the other direction and about 1 hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I’ve been to the Biltmore House in Asheville many times and had a season pass at one point. Although the Biltmore is lovely all four seasons, Christmas is my favorite, with spring in a close second. The first overnight vacation I took my daughter on was to Asheville, and we toured the Biltmore when she was about two months old. I’ve also hiked all over in and around Asheville. But I’m not going to talk about the Biltmore House or hiking here. I’ve already done that and you can read my posts here: Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina and Camping in Asheville, North Carolina.

I’m going to talk a bit about other things to do in Asheville because Asheville is so much more than just the Biltmore House and hiking/camping. Asheville is full of things to do and is a foodie town that can hold its own to other foodie towns like Charleston, SC. Too many people just get stuck in the Biltmore or hiking rut and don’t venture off to the plethora of other offerings Asheville has, myself included, until recently. So here we go digging a bit deeper.

Things to Do

Even though I’m a huge fan of botanical gardens, I only recently discovered the botanical garden in Asheville. It backs up to the University of North Carolina at Asheville campus so it’s easy to find. More importantly, it’s a quiet and peaceful place to walk around for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on whether you get in the water or not. Reed Creek flows through the gardens and provides a relaxing place to cool off in the summer or just to stop and enjoy the sounds and views. There is no admission fee and dogs are not permitted. https://ashevillebotanicalgardens.org

On a similar note but much bigger than the botanical gardens is the North Carolina Arboretum with gardens, a bonsai exhibit, hiking and biking trails, and views for miles on a clear day. There is no admission fee but there is a parking fee that some might consider a bit hefty ($16/vehicle). There are discounts offered for some affiliations and on the first Tuesday of the month so check the website for more information. https://www.ncarboretum.org

The Grove Arcade isn’t really an arcade at all but one of the most stunning indoor shopping malls I’ve ever seen. Originally opened in 1929 as America’s first indoor shopping mall, the Grove Arcade is a mix of stores and restaurants. Even if you don’t care for shopping, if you love ornate architecture, you might want to pop in to admire the building. There are even apartments for rent here and for just $2850/month you can have your own 2 bedroom apartment with 1478 square ft (yes, of course I realize that’s outrageous but I never said Asheville was cheap). Check out the website for a directory https://grovearcade.com

A friend of mine that had recently been to Asheville and knew I was planning a trip there asked if I had been to the Antique Tobacco Barn and I said I hadn’t so I thought I’d check it out. If you enjoy browsing through antiques, this is a huge place (almost 80,000 square ft) full of all kinds of antiques so big you can easily get turned around. There are something like 75 antique dealers, each with their own area within the space. Since I saw it was dog-friendly, I brought my dog and I’ve never seen her so happy when there weren’t treats involved. I guess she loved all of the smells from everything and her tail didn’t stop wagging the entire time we were there. https://www.atbarn.com

The River Arts District has working studios and galleries from many different kinds of artists and forms of medium including painting, glass, metal, jewelry, and more. If you’re lucky enough to be there on the the second Saturday of the month, there are gallery walks, workshops, wine tastings, demonstrations, and music. There’s even a trolley to help take you around the mile-long district, known as RAD. Check out more information plus the many events and classes on the website https://www.riverartsdistrict.com

For even more artistry, visit the Southern Highland Craft Guild. There are four locations where you can buy some of this fine handmade art by members of the group, with three in Asheville and one in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The 75th Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands was in July and October of this year. To purchase tickets or for more information see the website https://www.southernhighlandguild.org/galleries/

If you have children or just love animals, there’s the Western North Carolina Nature Center, essentially a zoo, full of animals that live or have lived in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Or so they say, but there are red pandas that currently only live in Central Asia (WNC Nature Center says that the climate where red pandas live is nearly identical to that of Asheville). But I digress. It’s a pretty typical zoo, in my opinion, with extras like behind the scenes tours, nature play areas, but with an additional area you don’t normally see at zoos- a gem and fossil mining area. My daughter loved doing this when she was younger. For an additional fee, you buy a bag of stones that they call mining roughage and put it through the sluice to see what you find. https://wildwnc.org/plan-your-visit/

One place I’ve never visited but I know is popular is the Asheville Pinball Museum. For $15 you can play 35 pinball machines and 35 classic video games for “as long as you like.” I wonder if that last part has ever been tested by someone who is really good at pinball or video games and they’ve had to kick them out after playing for hours. https://ashevillepinball.com

Another place I’ve never been that is surprising even to me because I normally love places like this is the Asheville Museum of Science. Originally opened in 1960 in another location with the name Burnham S. Colburn Memorial Museum, the museum was moved and renamed a couple more times before its current location and name in 2016. They seem to have many hands-on exhibits that delve into astronomy, geology, weather, climate, ecology, and paleontology. Admission is a simple $10 for everyone over 3. https://ashevillescience.org

If you enjoy live music, there are many options in Asheville. One of the best sources is this calendar https://livemusicasheville.com/calendar-live-music-in-asheville/ or this one that has more than just live music (like links for food and drink, things to do, etc.) https://www.exploreasheville.com/iconic-asheville/music/live-music-events-calendar/

Food and Drink

Like I mentioned in the beginning, Asheville is a foodie city and has been for quite some time. Over the years, the food scene has just exploded as has the number of breweries. Depending on the source, I’ve seen estimates anywhere from 20 to 30 breweries in Asheville. Considering there are currently around 96,000 people living in Asheville, that’s a ton of breweries for a town of this size. Some of the more popular breweries include Highland Brewing, Burial Beer Co, Bhramari Brewing Co, Archetype Brewing, Hi-Wire, New Belgium Brewing Co, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. I recently discovered White Labs Brewing Co and loved not only the beer but the pizza that was made with fermented dough, essentially sourdough. Sierra Nevada has some of the best food I’ve ever had at a brewery.

Some breweries including Sierra Nevada give tours as well

I don’t know how restaurants in Asheville stay in business given the stiff competition. You can find anything from food trucks to fancy dine-in restaurants and everything in between at all price points. It may seem surprising that a Caribbean restaurant, Nine Mile, is one of the highest rated restaurants given the location but probably not so surprising that there are a multitude of places specializing in pizza (pizza goes so well with beer). Some other highly rated restaurants include Cúrate, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, White Duck Taco, Tupelo Honey, Jargon, Rhubarb, All Souls Pizza, Buxton Hall, and Biscuit Head. I’ve been to many of these restaurants and will say the hype is real. I also discovered and really liked Gypsy Queen Market and Deli, a Lebanese restaurant when I was there last time.

Asheville is also a big coffee city with many local coffee shops including the touristy but still good Double D’s Coffee and Desserts where they sell coffee, tea, and desserts out of a bright red double-decker bus surrounded by a patio. You can find a whole list of some of the best coffee shops in Asheville here: https://www.exploreasheville.com/blog/post/fan-faves-ashevilles-best-coffee-shops/

Dog City USA

Asheville promotes itself as Dog City USA and tries hard to support that title. It’s one of the most dog-friendly places I’ve been and dogs are welcome at many breweries, restaurants (with outdoor seating) and stores. One restaurant, Twisted Laurel even has a doggie menu with protein, veggie, and dessert options. The Aloft Hotel in Downtown Asheville is so dog-friendly there’s no extra charge for dogs and there are usually rescue dogs available to adopt. Plus, there are many other pet-friendly hotels in Asheville at all price ranges.

The first official dog welcome center in the US is inside The Dog Door Behavior Center and Outfitter in Downtown Asheville across from the Grove Arcade. They have indoor and outdoor seating, a doggy potty area, water fountains, free goody bags, doggie ice cream, and info on their top 100 dog-friendly attractions, restaurants, and things to do. You can also buy treats, bandanas, toys, and other goodies for your dog in the store.

Best Time of Year To Go

Asheville definitely has all four seasons, with snow in the winter, spring flowers in the spring, hot but not excessively so summers, and autumn leaves in the fall. Summers are the busiest time of year and most packed with families. Spring and fall are probably the best overall in terms of weather and crowds but the spring can be fairly rainy and chilly, especially in March. January is the coldest month and can get quite chilly by North Carolina standards, although the lows don’t typically dip below the 20’s.

The best time of year to visit really depends on what you plan to do. If you want to go hiking, you can do that year-round but bring weather-appropriate clothes and good sturdy hiking shoes or boots. There are bears so be aware of that and make sure you make noise periodically when you’re hiking so that you don’t startle a bear. Spring is when bears have their cubs so that’s the time of year to be especially cautious. I would recommend spending three full days in Asheville or four if you plan on driving to other cities like Boone or Blowing Rock (which I recommend) or going to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

Have you been to Asheville before? If so, what did you do? Are there any places you really enjoyed and recommend?

Happy travels!

Donna

What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran- Part 2

If you missed part one, you can read it here What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran. TLDR? I went through the half marathons I ran in all 50 states beginning with my first one in North Carolina in 2000. I briefly state what I learned at each race, since after all, life is a learning process. In my first post, I stopped at a half marathon I ran in Mississippi in 2010 so that’s where I’ll start here.

Picking back up where I left, although I was struggling with health issues at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in November of 2010, my health continued to deteriorate for another reason. By the time of the Arbuckles to Ardmore Half Marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011, I had full-blown anemia. This was my 21st state (and 23rd half marathon) but my first experience with anemia. I was borderline in need of a transfusion but my doctor chose to prescribe heavy doses of iron pills along with B12 and other vitamins to help with absorption. She also told me not to run. I learned it is indeed possible to run a half marathon if you don’t mind going slowly (but I certainly don’t endorse this).

At the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana I learned to be better prepared for drastic changes in weather at races. Although it was supposed to be mid-50’s at the start of the race, a cold front had moved in the day before the race so it was predicted to drop to the low 40’s that morning. For some people, that’s shorts and short-sleeve weather but not for this southern gal. I went to a running store in search of running pants but the closest they had was capris, in a size smaller than I normally wore. I bought them anyway and while not ideal, at least my legs weren’t freezing.

I learned having elite runners at a race can have its perks for everyone else. When I ran the Kaiser Realty Coastal Half Marathon in Alabama, elite runners Deena Kastor and Johnny Gray were speakers there (they didn’t run the race) and we were treated to one of the best post-race spreads I’ve ever had at a race. At the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I learned it’s possible to have fun and not be overwhelmed at big races as long as they’re well-organized like this one. I learned just how hot it gets in Chicago in June at the Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon.

At the Amica Half Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island, I learned just how much of an underrated state this smallest of the US states is. The Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon showed me just how insanely hilly Knoxville is (one of the hilliest races I’ve ever run). I learned how amazingly scenic the islands off the coast of Washington are when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon.

I learned that all-women’s races have a different vibe than coed races do when I ran the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The New York City 13.1 showed me how many fun half marathons (and other distances) New York State and New York City has and you don’t have to run the bigger, better-known races to have a great race (this was in Queens). When I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine, I learned just how hot and hilly Maine is in July but since it’s so beautiful, it’s worth it.

The Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri showed me it’s possible for someone who had never even finished in the top three in her age group before to finish first. After I ran the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in Maryland and learned the race director was my daughter’s teacher’s niece, I learned what a small world it truly is. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota showed me two things: 1) South Dakota is entirely different in many ways than North Dakota and 2) I love races that start at the top of a canyon and you run down it.

In September of 2015, I learned that some race directors were still not using timing chips at the Dixville Half Marathon in Colebrook, New Hampshire. At the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Eugene, Oregon, I learned just how intense runners are in this part of the country. I asked someone at the packet pickup about the hills and was told, “they’re not that bad,” only to find out the only flat portions were the first two miles and the last mile, with none of the hills going down, only up. The Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado showed me what I already suspected, that running at altitude is no joke.

I learned sometimes race directors try to cram too many events into one race at the Silver Strand Half Marathon in California. In addition to the half marathon, there was a 5k, 10 miler, and half marathon for skaters, handcyclers, and wheelchair racers and the course was extremely crowded. I learned it can be so cold in Utah in February that despite wearing gloves, my fingers were still cold at the end of the Dogtown Half Marathon and my feet were numb for the first couple of miles. The Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey showed me how much fun it was to see other people’s costumes at a race (I didn’t dress up).

The Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia showed me how cool it was to run with a football on a football field at the end of a race. The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho showed me how life often doesn’t turn out how you think it will but that can be a good thing. For years I thought I’d run a half marathon in Coeur d’Alene for my Idaho race but the timing was never right so I signed up for this race in Boise and loved it. I learned it’s possible to have a not-so-unique race even in such a beautiful state as Alaska at the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage. The course was primarily on greenways, with little water views and overall not that scenic in my opinion.

I learned it’s possible to have a blazing fast course, plenty of amazing volunteers, boatloads of food before and after the race, huge medals, and quality shirts for finishers at small races like the White River Half Marathon in tiny little Cotter, Arkansas. At the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Lewes, Delaware, I learned running on crushed gravel is killer on the legs and a frozen strawberry daiquiri really hits the spot after a tough race. I learned it’s possible to PR at high elevation if the race has a downhill start like the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming.

The Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska taught me to tie my shoelaces better before a race. I had double-knotted them but they still came untied and that 20-something seconds it took me to tie them likely cost me a third place age group finish. At the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota, I learned that “Minnesota nice” is real. Those were some of the friendliest and nicest people I had ever chatted with at a race.

I learned it’s possible to PR at your 51st half marathon at the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon in Iowa. This race also showed me that Des Moines knows how to put on a half marathon right, with so many little touches and big additions as well. The Albuquerque Half Marathon in New Mexico showed me life truly is all about the journey. Although many things went wrong or not exactly ideal before, during, and after this race and it didn’t end on such a high point as I would have liked, I learned running a half marathon in all 50 states isn’t just about state number 50, but the point is every single state along the way that adds up to all 50 states.

So that’s it- 53 half marathons in 21 years and what I learned along the way. Every single race taught me something, sometimes big things, sometimes smaller things but they were all lessons nonetheless.

If you’d like to read more in-depth about any of the half marathons I’ve run, check out my page here: https://runningtotravel.wordpress.com/half-marathons/

What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve run?

Happy running!

Donna

Most Overrated Tourist Attractions

I saw an article by Fodor’s Travel about the most overrated tourist attractions in the world and it made me pause. For the article, see https://www.fodors.com/news/news/the-most-overrated-tourist-attractions-in-2022. For a quick summary, there were places mentioned ranging from The Grand Canyon, The FRIENDS Experience New York, cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, but apparently the most popular places listed were Disney World and Disneyland. The reasons listed shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been to Disney- too crowded and too expensive. Rounding out the poll’s top 5 most overrated tourist attractions were The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, Times Square, and The Louvre.

I’ve never been to The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, or The Louvre so I can’t comment on my personal feelings about those places but I have been to Disneyland and Disney World, The Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Times Square. I agree that Disney is hugely expensive and crowded so I can see where people would rank those places as overrated. There wasn’t a reason or reasons listed why people thought Times Square was overrated but I can also understand how it could be a letdown for people expecting some sort of magical experience or inflated expectations.

I started thinking about what I would list as the top 5 most overrated places I’ve traveled to. Travel can be a subjective subject so I understand that places I may have hated or just generally disliked are places that other people love. Likewise, I’ve been to places that I loved that others have hated. For example, I’ve heard people say The Grand Canyon National Park is nothing but a big hole in the ground with a bunch of rocks and trees around. I thought the Grand Canyon was an amazingly beautiful part of our country and loved hiking there. Not everyone likes being out in nature, though.

Does this look like just a big hole in the ground? Not to me!

Probably my number one place that I would list as overrated is Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not a gambler and both times I went there I didn’t gamble even once, not even to play the slot machines. I really could care less about gambling. The first time I went to Las Vegas I was in nearby Laughlin, Nevada for a half marathon and thought I should see what all the fuss was about in Vegas. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Sure, the enormous themed casino hotels (The Venetian, Paris, Bellagio, etc.) are cool but I wouldn’t go there just for the hotels. I’m also not a big drinker or partier so you could see where Las Vegas would not be a great choice for a person like me.

Las Vegas Strip at night

The second time I was in Las Vegas was when I was running a half marathon outside St. George, Utah and it was cheaper to fly into Las Vegas and drive from there. Since we landed in the evening I thought we should at least walk through some of the hotel lobbies and watch the fountain displays with our teenage daughter to show her the sights. Would I ever purposely go back? Maybe to watch a Cirque du Soleil show but that’s the only reason (I’m a big fan of their shows).

Next on my list of overrated tourist spots is Gatlinburg, Tennessee (not including Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Like Las Vegas, I’ve been here twice, once as a teenager with a friend of mine and her family and more recently to go hiking in the park with my daughter last summer. On my more recent visit, we skipped all of the super-touristy places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, and the Salt and Pepper Museum. I didn’t hate it here and there were some shops and restaurants I enjoyed but it’s definitely not a place I would go out of my way to go to. See my post: Gatlinburg, Tennessee “Myrtle Beach in the Sky”

Main strip of Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If you read my post on Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it may come to no surprise that next on my list here is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Like Gatlinburg and Las Vegas, this is a place I’ve been to more than once, the first time as a child and later as an adult. This is also a place I personally know many people go to every summer with their friends and/or families and love it here. I find it crowded with people and traffic and touristy shops and restaurants full of fried seafood (which I don’t like). The water is murky and there is often trash littered around the hotels and beach areas. I would hands-down rather go a little further south to Charleston, South Carolina, which in my opinion is about 1000 times better in every way imaginable than Myrtle Beach.

Next on my list is a place I’ve only been to once: Los Angeles, California. I went here during my trip to Long Beach, California, when I ran a marathon and explored the area afterwards. Personally, I found the Hollywood Walk of Fame to be a complete waste of time (it’s exactly what you think it will be, a bunch of famous people’s names on gold stars on the sidewalk) and the tour of celebrity homes was also a waste. What I remember from that tour is driving around in a van, going by a bunch of huge fences and shrubbery while the host talked about the celebrity who lived in each of the homes we couldn’t even see. Maybe I just chose a bad tour or maybe they’re better now since that was several years ago. Sunset Strip, the Hollywood Sign, and every single other thing I saw or went past was entirely a waste of time to me.

The final place on my list of overrated places is a city I was surprised I didn’t like it as much as I did and I found it disappointing overall- Athens, Greece. For all of the details, you can read my post: I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens. In short, I found it to be hot, crowded, and dirty and many of the ruins were in such a poor state you could barely even see anything there. That being said, it might be more pleasant during the spring or fall when it’s not so crowded or hot. It’s also a place despite the fact I found it overrated, I would still recommend everyone go there just once to experience it for themselves.

Recognize this ruin? Me niether but I know it was in Athens

In fact, I don’t want to imply that I think no one should go to any of these overrated places. Like I said earlier, I know many people who go to some of these places year after year and love them. Also, with the exception of Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg, these are unique places that I encourage everyone to see for themselves for the experience. There truly is no other place (at least not that I’ve been to or heard of) like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Athens, each of which has unique qualities that some people are drawn to.

What about you? Do you love any of the places I listed as overrated? Do you have your own list of overrated places that you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna

What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran

Life is really just a learning process, right? If you don’t learn as you go along, you don’t make progress and grow as a person. Looking back at the half marathons I’ve run, I realized I learned something at each and every race. Sometimes the things I learned were life-changing and with others it was just minor things I probably knew already but they were re-emphasized to me.

Let’s take a look back at the half marathons I’ve run over the years, going back to the very first half marathon I ever ran, way back in 2000, up to the present day. For most of these, I’ll keep it brief but for the truly life-changing races, I may dig a bit deeper. Hopefully this will be fun, so let’s see!

My very first half marathon, the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, North Carolina in November 2000 was quite a learning experience for me. The weather was crazy, with freezing rain and even snow, which is almost unheard of in this southern coastal city. By the time I finished, my arms and shoulders were so tired I could barely lift them to take my sports bra and running shirt off. I learned several things after this race but the top ones were: 1) I needed to start lifting weights, concentrating on upper body exercises, 2) I learned what a huge factor the weather can be and I knew I could run this race faster under more ideal weather conditions, and 3) I learned I was hooked on running half marathons and wanted to do more.

When I ran the 2001 Battleship Half Marathon, sure enough, I cut several minutes off my finish time and the weather was a beautiful day for a race! I learned the importance of being prepared for a half marathon with strength training and a training plan. The Gold Rush Half Marathon in Concord, North Carolina taught me that heat, hills, and humidity is a nasty combination when it comes to races and to avoid the possibility of the 3H’s at all costs when signing up for a race!

Philadelphia Distance Run (can you find me?)

The Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (at least when I ran it) was on the same course as the Ironman running portion. It was hot and hilly (but not humid) and beautiful. I loved every second of it and I learned having great views along a course goes a long way! When I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run, I learned big races can be fun as long as they’re well-organized, which this one was.

Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina is very flat but also tends to have strong headwinds. I learned races along the beach can be difficult despite being flat because of the winds. When I ran the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Phoenix, I learned it’s possible to run a half marathon when pregnant as long as you follow your doctor’s recommendations and advice.

The Columbus Distance Run was a race I never should have run. I had been suffering from Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) before this race and had pain in my knee after running only a couple of miles at a time but I ran it anyway. I couldn’t run for months after the race and I learned sometimes you should DNS (did not start) a race if you’re injured.

After running the Louisville Half Marathon in Kentucky, I learned to research my races better because like the race in Columbus, Ohio, this race was just OK with nothing exceptional about it. The Naples Daily News Half Marathon in Florida taught me there are plenty of fun races in Florida besides Disney and they don’t have to cost a fortune and you don’t have to get up at 3 in the morning on race day either! Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, Vermont taught me how much I love Vermont and left me wanting to see the rest of the New England states.

I was surprised at how stifling hot it was at the half marathon in Connecticut!

When I ran the Marathon of the Americas and Half Marathon in San Antonio, Texas, I learned the importance of working in some vacation days after a race; San Antonio is a fun city to explore. The Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada showed me you can’t always trust the website descriptions for a race (I didn’t find it scenic at all) and packed dirt with gravel on top is horrible to try to run on. Stratton Faxon Half Marathon in Fairfield, Connecticut showed me that even the New England states can get extremely hot during the summer.

The Evansville Half Marathon in Indiana showed me that sometimes taking that leap of faith to run in small towns you’ve never heard of can be worth it (it was my fastest half marathon to date and I loved every minute of the race). Run the Reagan in Snellville, Georgia taught me it’s not fun at all to run along a freeway and even more miserable when it’s raining and cold. The Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan showed me popular races are popular for a reason (this one sold out quickly when I signed up) and I loved the scenic course.

Finishing on a track was fun at the half in Traverse City, Michigan!

Kroll’s Diner Half Marathon in Bismarck, North Dakota showed me it can be tough to find a half marathon that fits in with your schedule in some states, with North Dakota being one. When I was looking for a half marathon there, I could only find a few races and to this day there are only a handful. Ole Man River Half Marathon in New Orleans showed me even a fun, quirky city like New Orleans can have plain and ordinary races like this one. The Olathe Half Marathon in Kansas showed me some race directors aren’t thoughtful at all when planning a race course and will take you through industrial areas and past neighborhoods with just ordinary houses (or maybe that was just the best they had to offer for a safe course).

The Madison Mini-Marathon in Wisconsin showed me when you run a half marathon in August, even in a state as far north as Wisconsin, it’s going to be HOT so you’d better be prepared for slower race times. I learned a couple of things when I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon: 1) just because you’re running in a cool place like a space center doesn’t mean you’ll see actual rockets and 2) it sometimes gets cold in Mississippi in late November (I was not expecting it to be in the 30’s).

I’m going to stop here since I still have several half marathons to go and this post is already pretty lengthy. I’ll continue with the rest of the half marathon lessons in another post.

What about you? What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve ran?

Happy running!

Donna

Duolingo 2.0

I first wrote a post about my experience with the language-learning website and app Duolingo in Review of Duolingo, which I published in 2017. Since I hadn’t been to any Spanish-speaking countries in quite some time, and I didn’t feel the need to learn Portuguese other than some important words and phrases before my trip to Portugal, I hadn’t used Duolingo in a few years. However, I had a trip planned to Costa Rica and I wanted to start brushing up on my Spanish again before I went there.

Let me just say, the Duolingo that exists now is much better in my opinion than the version I used a few years ago. But first, let me give a little background info before I go any further. Duolingo launched in November of 2011 and now has 106 courses in 41 languages and has around 42 million users. Duolingo is free (with ads) but there is a premium service called Super Duolingo (previously called Duolingo Plus) which is ad-free, lets you accumulate unlimited hearts, and lets you review your mistakes for $6.99/month.

In my first review of Duolingo, I wrote that because of so many multiple choice options, I felt it was too easy and could give users a false sense of security that they were “fluent” in the language they were learning. Now, I’m not seeing nearly as many multiple choice options, although there are still some. There seems to be more speaking required now and definitely more listening options. Now, you can listen to a short story in the language you’re learning and answer questions afterwards. I don’t remember having that option before so I believe it’s relatively new.

I have the free version and it seems like there are many more ads now than before. I won’t lie, the ads are annoying. I’ve learned to just put my phone down and walk away for a minute and come back when the ad is over, although some of the ads are shorter than others. I’m not sure there was a pay version in 2017 but if not that could explain why they’re playing so many ads now, in a hope to get people to pay to skip the ads. The ads I’m seeing are mostly for gaming apps but there are plenty of others as well.

While we’re on the subject of annoying things, another annoying feature is the reminder about the daily streak. Some people might be drawn to this idea of practicing a language on Duolingo every day without missing a day but it’s just annoying to me. I feel like I’ll use the app when I have time and I don’t need reminders that I’m about to lose my daily streak. I don’t care if I’ll lose my streak, Duolingo. I did eventually learn how to turn these reminders off, so at least that’s an option.

I also don’t like how you can’t “test out” if you’re already relatively fluent at your current level, at least not at the free level. Before, you could take a proficiency test and if you passed, you could skip ahead to the next level quickly. Now, as far as I can tell, that option is only if you have the paid version. Well, supposedly. My daughter did the free trial of the paid option and said she took the test to skip to the next level and it wouldn’t let her do it even though she didn’t miss any of the questions.

Back to some of the basic features. There are many sections broken down into units. For example, unit 1 has intro, phrases, travel, restaurant, family, shopping, present tense 1, school, and people. Then there is a checkpoint before you can move on to unit 2. Unit 2 has some of the same sections as unit 1 including family, travel, and people but some new sections like emotions, preference, and describe, for example.

One area I didn’t discover until I had used the app for a while was under the profile icon. There’s an Achievements area and until I clicked on the achievements I had earned, I didn’t actually get the gems and other achievements I had earned on earlier days. You also have the option to follow other friends who also use the app in the profile section. If you’re competitive, there’s a shield icon that will show you what league you’re currently ranked in, based on points. There’s another icon that looks like a gem where you can buy gems (using real money) to be used in the app or you can bump yourself up to Duolingo Plus.

Overall, I find the Duolingo that exists now to be a useful tool for learning another language. The ads are annoying but I’m just not willing to pay for the app so I guess that falls on me; the option is always there to skip the ads if you’re willing to pay for that. I guess the real question was how well did it prepare me for my trip to Costa Rica? Pretty well! I didn’t have any trouble speaking to anyone (and more importantly getting them to understand me) and I could follow along when they spoke as long as they knew I only knew a little Spanish so they could slow down and use more basic words.

Have you used Duolingo either when it first came out the end of 2011 or more recently? If so, what do you think of the app? Do you use another learning app or tool to learn or refresh a foreign language?

Happy travels!

Donna

My Very First DNS (Did Not Start) for a Race EVER

Even I’m surprised that although I have registered for somewhere around 60 races over the past 22 years I’ve never been unable to physically run a race, until now. However, there were a couple of races that I shouldn’t have run, like the half marathon in Ohio where I had terrible iliotibial band syndrome leading up to the race but I ran it anyway and paid the price afterwards and the half marathon in Oklahoma where I was severely anemic before the race and ran/walked that race for my slowest finish time ever.

When I was looking at local races this fall, none of them appealed to me until I came across the Pups & Pastries 5k. Cute dogs and pastries after a race? I’m in! When I found out the proceeds were going to a dog rescue center, it was icing on the cake. Two weeks before the race, I ran 6.2 miles on the course to get acquainted with what I would be looking forward to on race day. Yes, it was hilly but I was looking forward to the challenge. I had been running on hills the past several months so hills were nothing new to me.

Suddenly a little over a week before the race I started having pains in my right shin. Then one week before the race when I went for a 5 mile run I had a sharp, stabbing pain in my right shin when I was getting out of the car, before I even ran. During the course of the 5 miles I experienced even more of those sharp, stabbing pains in my shin a few times. It felt like someone was stabbing my shin with a knife. Not good.

This wasn’t my first time with shin splints. When I was in college I had shin splints so badly I practically crawled home from a run and was in tears when I finally got back to my apartment. I most likely had a stress fracture but didn’t go to the doctor to confirm it. That bout of shin splints/stress fracture was so painful I didn’t run for years afterwards.

So this time around, I knew what I was in for but I was confused about what might have caused them. My running shoes both had less than 300 miles on them, I had been running hills for quite some time, and I always stretched after running. I also knew that while my shin splints were relatively mild, if I continued to run they would inevitably turn into a stress fracture. Just to ease my mind, I went to get my leg x-rayed and the doctor said unless I had been having shin splints for 3-4 weeks they likely wouldn’t show up on an x-ray. Of course he said not to run for 2-3 weeks and if my leg still hurt in a month to get a bone scan done, which would show any fractures in my shin.

I was tempted to take the entire week off before the race and just do some easy walking and try to run on race day but then I knew that was a terrible idea. A local 5k certainly isn’t a good enough reason to potentially cause my shin splints to get worse. I didn’t want to be so injured so badly with a stress fracture that I would have to take months off from running.

Sure, I was disappointed when I accepted the fact that racing with shin splints was a terrible idea so I would DNS this race but then I decided to make lemonade out of lemons. I saw there was a volunteer option on the race website so I immediately emailed the race director to see if they still needed volunteers. He said yes, for many different positions and he thanked me and told me he was sorry to hear I was injured.

Race morning was overcast and cool but not cold- a perfect day for a race (if you’re running, that is)! After I told the person in charge of volunteers I was a runner and had experience with both running and volunteering at races, I was assigned to help out at the finish line. Even though the race was chip-timed, they wanted someone to write down the finishers numbers from their bibs as they crossed the finish line, as a back-up. This may sound like over-kill and in a perfect world it would be but we all know electronics don’t always work perfectly. A couple of times during the race the main timing person asked me to verify the order and/or numbers of a few racers. Another time a runner came up and said his GPS watch time was different from his chip time (as were some other runners that he knew there) and I gave my paper to the main timing person to clear that up.

This race had several options: there was a 5k or 10 mile option you could run with your dog, a fun run 5k option (no dogs), and a competitive 5k or 10 mile race with no dogs allowed. I believe there were about 40 people running with their dogs and it was adorable to see the wide range of dogs there. There were the expected labs and other active breeds but also a good amount of tiny breeds like chihuahuas plus several mixed breeds. I’m a huge dog-lover so I enjoyed just watching the dogs before the race.

Being at the finish line allowed me front-row access to check out all of the dogs as they crossed the finish. Seeing the sheer joy on many of those dog’s cute faces was priceless. The man who was the first to cross the line with his dog was running with a lab who looked like he/she could have kept running for another 10 miles. The dog’s tail was wagging like crazy when it was rewarded with dog treats just past the finish line. There was also water for the dogs and their owners.

Oh, and the pastries part of the race came in the form of what looked like homemade brownies, all of which were individually-wrapped. When I was leaving, I was given one and it was pretty tasty. I’ll have to keep this race in mind for next year when I will hopefully be healthy and can run it! In case you’re wondering, I do have a dog, a 10-year-old lab-mix but she’s not a runner and even when she was younger wasn’t a runner so I won’t be doing it with her.

Have you run a race with your dog? Would you run a 5k with your dog if there was a race that allowed dogs near you? Would you volunteer at a race like this just to see the cute dogs?

Happy running!

Donna

Insider Information As Told To Me By a Costa Rican

When I was in Costa Rica with my daughter, as I’ve said before in a previous post (Day Trips From San Jose, Costa Rica- Poas Volcano, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Manuel Antonio National Park, Sloths, and Monkeys!), we basically had our own private tour guide. Since we were the only people that had booked tours with Christian through Sol Tropical Tours from our resort that week, we had him all to ourselves. As a result, we got to know him and his home country quite well. He passed along several tidbits of knowledge I’d like to pass along now.

Costa Rica is a peace-loving nation with no military. After the 1948 Civil War, the National Army of Costa Rica was abolished and the money went instead towards education, healthcare, and infrastructure. According to Christian, Costa Ricans value these three things as fundamental constitutional rights that all people should have. There are five public universities that are funded by the government so students can get excellent educations at an affordable cost.

The healthcare system in Costa Rica is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. Although there is a free public healthcare system in place, it’s primarily free for the poor people who are residents; expats and people with a job have to pay for health care, but it’s still a fraction of what most Americans pay. If you’re part of the public healthcare system, what hospital you can go to is determined by where you live. For example, Christian said the best hospitals in Costa Rica are in or near San Jose but there are good hospitals throughout the country.

It is one of the most biodiversity rich places in the world. Costa Rica is in the top 20 places in the world for biodiversity and has one of the top 10 most biodiverse-rich rainforest ecosystems. A big chunk of the country is also protected from companies like loggers and developers, with a little over a quarter of its land protected in national parks, wildlife refuges, biological reserves, and private reserves.

Costa Rica is one of the most “green” countries in the world. During his inauguration speech in 2018, Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado announced that he plans to ban all fossil fuels with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon neutral. Costa Rica produces nearly 93 percent of its electricity from renewable resources. Abundant rainfall and rivers allow for hydro power to meet most of the electricity demand, followed by geothermal, wind, solar and biomass.

Tourism is Costa Rica’s main source of income, with almost 2 million tourists a year. The majority of tourists are from the US and Canada, so Costa Ricans are friendly towards Americans for the most part, knowing they are such a vital part of their economy (according to Christian). That being said, Costa Rican officials don’t want tourists to overstay their welcome and you had better have proof that you will be leaving the country within 90 days, as checked by immigrations and border patrol.

Costa Rica is known to turn lemons into lemonade by repurposing some of its military buildings. Several museums are former military barracks, prisons, and other related buildings such as the Juan Santamaria Historical Cultural Museum in Alajuela, the Guanacaste Museum in Liberia, and the National Museum in San Jose. For Costa Ricans, these buildings are proud symbols of national peace. Instead of just tearing the buildings down, they decided to keep them and use them for something positive.

National Museum of Costa Rica

Driving in Costa Rica is complicated. Christian was telling us how a person on one of his tours commented that Costa Ricans like to lay on their horns a lot and Christian said he disagreed. Then he continued to tell us that when drivers blow their horns, it’s almost like a secret language. One quick toot means something specific, while two quick toots mean something else, and there’s an entire sequence of horn blowing and hand gestures that seemingly only locals can understand. When I mentioned that many drivers don’t stop at stop signs, he said, “Only when it’s clear that we don’t need to stop. If it’s night time or no one else is coming, we may not stop.” Pedestrians also seemingly don’t have the right-of-way, as I experienced first-hand when walking around downtown San Jose.

Knowing at least a little Spanish is helpful. Christian told me that he learned English in school, as does everyone else, so Costa Ricans usually know at least some English (although if they aren’t regularly using it they’ll forget it like anyone else). Still, Costa Ricans appreciate if you make an effort to learn some basic Spanish words like por favor (please), gracias (thank you), hola; the “h” is silent (hello), and adios (goodbye). Don’t worry about not getting words exactly right or if your accent isn’t great. They don’t expect you to speak in perfectly fluent Spanish but the effort is appreciated.

Having a guide isn’t necessary but can be extremely helpful, especially if it’s your first time in Costa Rica. Since driving is complicated, there are often mudslides, especially in the rainy season, and it’s such a diverse country with so much to see, having a guide can help you navigate (literally) safely and efficiently. Sure, you can hire a taxi or Uber to drop you off at a national park but you won’t learn about the history and gain the insider information about the area like you would from a tour guide. Although this wasn’t my first time in Costa Rica, I was grateful to have a guide.

Costa Rica has some of the best coffee in the world. I had heard this before and I had seen bags of Costa Rican coffee in grocery stores before but I’m not a coffee drinker so it didn’t mean much to me. My teenage daughter, however, is a huge coffee lover so of course she wanted to try the coffee, and of course she loved it. There’s a unique way of brewing coffee in Costa Rica with something called a chorreador. This is a popular brewing device used for over two hundred years in Costa Rica built of a wooden stand that holds the coffee cup or pot and a piece of cloth held open by a wire or rim. It’s cool-looking and makes you feel like you’re getting something special rather than just a cup of coffee brought to you. Also, I can attest there’s something special about Costa Rican coffee because as I mentioned, I don’t drink coffee, however, one time when I ordered a hot cocoa, I was accidentally handed a coffee. I didn’t realize it was coffee until after we had left the cafe and I was cold so I figured I’d just try it. It was GOOD and most of all, it didn’t make my heart race like coffee normally does. I’m not going to start drinking Costa Rican coffee now but there’s definitely something different about the coffee.

Skip the all-inclusive hotel. There are many AI hotels in Costa Rica and I understand it’s tempting to just have all of your food and drinks already paid for along with your hotel room. The first time I went to Costa Rica, I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and only left the resort to go on a day trip for horseback riding, ziplining, and mud pools and one other time for a bike tour of the area. Every meal was eaten at the resort so I didn’t get to try food from different areas or even go to many different areas for that matter. I didn’t get to experience the grocery stores (which I always love to do on vacation) either. That was why this time I wanted to stay in the central valley and take day trips so I could see more of the country.

I think that’s about everything but I’m sure I’m forgetting some important points about Costa Rica that Christian passed along or that I ended up learning on my own (like the all-inclusive hotels). What about you- have you been to Costa Rica? If so, where did you go and what did you do? What things did you learn about the country while you were there?

Happy travels,

Donna

How I Did It

I recently reviewed Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery’s book How She Did It, which you can read here (Book Review- How She Did It. Stories, Advice, and Secrets to Success from 50 Legendary Distance Runners by Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery).

In my review, I also provided a link to their website where you can buy a copy of their book and if you go there, you’ll see it includes a reader worksheet. This is the same list of questions the authors asked everyone they interviewed for their book. I thought it would be interesting for me to post the questions on the worksheet and put my personal answers here. Here goes!

YOUR CHAPTER

Below are the questions we asked all the athletes interviewed in How She Did It.

Use these questions as a guide as you think about your own experience. Then, look at the answers from the athletes in the book. Do you notice any similarities? Come back to this page often and review how your answers change over time

What were your PR’s?

Although I ran on my elementary school’s track team, I have no idea what my times were for the distances I ran then (the mile, 800 meter, and 4 x 400 meter relay). That was the only time I ran on a school team and the only time I raced shorter distances. I didn’t start racing until I was an adult so I only have PR’s from the last 22 years. I bring this up because in the book, people had PR’s from high school, college, and beyond. Here are my PR’s: 5k- 26:53 (May 2022), 10k- 52:27 (July 2021), 10-mile- 1:27:13 (April 2022), Half Marathon- 1:51:20 (October 2021).

How did you get into running?

As I mentioned above, I started running on my elementary school’s track team. Our PE teacher was phenomenal and I believe a big part of why I’ve always been athletic is because of his encouragement. I’ve always also had a drive in me and the adrenaline rush from running has kept me going.

What major setbacks/challenges did you face as an athlete?

I had shin splints in college that stopped me from running for a few years. At their peak, they were so painful I was in tears as I walked home from a run and that deterred me from running for a long time. I also had ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome) that I developed after the birth of my daughter when I was training for a half marathon in Ohio. I tried to push through the pain and keep running but that was not a good idea and I was forced to stop running for a few months after that race.

If you have this setback/setbacks, describe how long you were off from running competing? How did you overcome the issue?

I already answered the part about how long I was off from running. I overcame shin splints by buying better running shoes, focusing more on recovery, and just training more properly. My foam roller and deep tissue massages helped me recover from ITBS and it’s not been a problem since I incorporated both of those things into my regular practice.

What is your best race following your setback (or your best race ever!)?

My best race ever was the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon (see photo above). It was one of those races where all of the stars were aligned and I felt like I was flying on the course. In a close second (or maybe even a tie) was the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta where I had a huge smile plastered on my face for the entire 10k. Not surprisingly those were also my fastest races.

What are you most proud of in your running journey?

I don’t consider myself a “proud” person in general; I don’t go around bragging about myself or my accomplishments. That being said, I am proud of completing my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states. It took commitment and perseverance on my part and the journey changed my life.

What did you learn and what would you have done differently?

I’m not sure if this question relates to the previous question but that’s how I’m going to answer it. I learned that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for (physically and mentally). I also learned that big goals are achievable if you make them a priority (I realize sometimes that’s just not possible so I’m not saying it’s easy to do that). I would have changed a couple of the races I ran and chosen different ones, with the Run the Reagan just outside of Atlanta high on the list as one of my most miserable races.

Who makes up your support system? (coaches, trainers, family, teammates, friends?)

My support system has changed over the years. For all 17 years of her life my daughter has been my biggest fan and supporter. She traveled with me to all but 3 states for the half marathons I ran (Pennsylvania, Iowa, and New Mexico) and always cheered me on. Never once when she was younger did she complain when I told her I was going on a training run. Now that she’s older she’ll often have a cold glass of water with Nuun waiting for me after a run.

What is your favorite workout?

My favorite workout is one that incorporates quarter mile repeats. They’re over before I know it but I feel like they make me faster and stronger.

What is your most interesting/funny race story?

Believe it or not, despite running somewhere around 60 races, I don’t really have any interesting or funny race stories that come to mind. I guess maybe the best I can think of was the half marathon in Boise, Idaho where a guy was running with a pool cue balanced on a finger, trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

If you could give other girls in sport one piece of advice, what would it be?

My piece of advice for other girls in sport would be to listen to your body to notice any changes and seek help from either a coach or physical therapist when necessary. If something feels off, figure out why that is. For example, if you have a pain on the side of your knee, figure out what’s causing that pain and work on getting rid of that pain. Don’t continue running if something hurts. It’s not worth the damage you’ll inevitably do and be forced to take time off from running.

What has been most rewarding about your running journey?

The most rewarding part of my running journey has 100% been the people I’ve met along the way. I still remember conversations I had with other runners years ago either before or after a race. Joining a running club has been one of the best things I’ve ever done and have made lifelong friends. Connecting with other runners through my blog and social media has also been one of the best parts about my running journey.

Have you read How She Did It? Did you fill out this worksheet? If you did, is there anything from it you’d like to share or discuss?

Happy Running!

Donna

Day Trips From San Jose, Costa Rica- Poas Volcano, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Manuel Antonio National Park, Sloths, and Monkeys!

As I mentioned in my previous post (Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica), this wasn’t my first visit to Costa Rica. I didn’t say it before but I had previously been to the Guanacaste region in northern Costa Rica, many years ago, and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and just took a day trip to go zip-lining and visit mud pools, plus take a cycling tour of the area for a couple of hours one afternoon. This time when I went back to Costa Rica, I wanted to do things differently and stay in the Central Valley region where the capital city of San Jose is and take some day tours from there.

We decided to take three days for all-day tours and spend the rest of the time in downtown San Jose. This gave us a nice mix of museums and shopping in the city along with outdoor pursuits. Plus, it limited our days in the car, since a “short” drive to an excursion was a little over an hour away, one way. First, I should give a shout-out to the tour company I chose, Sol Tropical Tours https://soltropical.com.The resort where I was staying has a close relationship with this tour company, although not exclusively so anyone can book tours with Sol Tropical.

It turned out that when I was in Costa Rica, my daughter and I were the only ones at our small resort (only 10 units) that chose to do the tours that week so we literally had our own private tours, for the price of group tours. Score! Our guide, Christian, was so friendly and knowledgable about Costa Rican history, culture, and animals and we gained so much information we never would have if we were on our own. By the second tour, it felt like we were old friends and he was showing us around his beautiful country. We would pull up to a restaurant after he had called in our orders in advance and since he knew everyone in the place, they all made us feel extremely welcome and like a part of the family. Normally I don’t take tours when I travel but this time I was a firm believer in the value of a good tour guide.

Day Trip Number One- Sloths and Hot Springs

Our first day trip was to the Arenal Region. Because it was the rainy season and there had been recent mudslides and bridges getting swept away, Christian had to take an alternate route to the region. This reinforced the fact that it was a wise decision for me not to rent a car and just go it on my own. We stopped in the town of Sarchi for some souvenir shopping and breakfast on our own. Then it was off to a quick view of Arenal Volcano, although because of the mudslides and other reasons, we couldn’t get very close.

A SLOTH!!! It was so cool seeing them moving around in the trees.

There was an optional Sloth Tour in La Fortuna, which I was like, of course we want to take the sloth tour! Who wouldn’t? Christian had an expert eye for spotting all of the sloths and thanks to his telescope we were able to see them clearly up in the trees. Sure, I had seen sloths before in zoos and the like but this was immensely better seeing them in nature. He also showed us many different birds, trees, and flowers along the way.

For the grand finale, as if seeing sloths and a volcano wasn’t good enough, we went to what are often called the best hot springs in Costa Rica but I would say the best hot springs I’ve ever been to anywhere, Baldi Hot Springs. This is a 5-star resort with over 20 natural hot spring pools, several swim-up bars, two restaurants, accommodations, and of course changing rooms, showers, and lockers. We were allowed to stay there for three hours before dinner, and they were the most relaxing three hours I spent in Costa Rica.

We had access to all of the hot springs, including the VIP ones at the very top near the hotel rooms, and we went to every one of them, some twice. Christian had left us to enjoy the hot springs on our own and told us where to go for dinner, also on our own (but everything was included in the tour price). Dinner was a buffet full of traditional Costa Rican dishes like rice and beans, plantains, and fish but so much more as well, a wide array of desserts, and even a chocolate fondue fountain with things like marshmallows, strawberries, and graham crackers to dip in it. With full bellies and soothed muscles, we met Christian by the towel return area for our drive back to the resort.

Baldi Hot Springs

Day Trip Number Two- Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens

My daughter has an interest in volcanoes and even wants to be a volcanologist and work with volcanoes when she’s an adult (she’s 16 now). When I told her we could visit a volcano up-close, she was excited and of course she wanted to do that day trip. On this day, we went to Poas Volcano National Park, with the largest active volcano in Costa Rica and 8885 feet above sea level.

The crater of the volcano is over a mile across and 1050 ft.deep. Since the crater is in a continuous eruption with its sulfuric gases, visitors are only advised to stay 20 minutes at a time, to limit respiratory distress. We also were given hard hats to wear, in the event of flying rocks and debris from a sudden eruption. Christian pointed out indentations in the walkway up to the viewing spot where large rocks had landed in previous eruptions. He also showed us specific plants growing there and told us what animals live there (mostly birds, coyotes, rabbits, and marmots). There is a lake in the crater with a lovely light turquoise color, and with a pH of zero, it is one of the most acidic lakes in the world. Since it is at a high elevation, it’s much colder here than San Jose so it was nice to get a cup of hot cocoa at the cafe there to warm up afterwards.

It was a foggy, rainy morning at Poas Volcano so it was difficult to get a good photo of the lake. Like most places, photos don’t do it justice and it was much better in person!

Afterwards, we had a short drive to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is an easy walking trail (but with many steps) in a tropical rain forest. Christian pointed out birds and took us to the individual sections. There was a butterfly observatory, more hummingbirds than I’ve seen in one small area in the Hummingbird Garden, an Aviary exhibit, Serpentarium, Jungle Cats, and the Frog Exhibit. We had a nice lunch and once again filled up on the buffet with everything from chicken, fish, pastas, pizza, beef, the usual rice and beans, vegetables and salad, a multitude of desserts, and hot coffee and tea.

After lunch, we took the 2 mile path with the waterfalls, all 5 of them. One waterfall was so high and the water was so powerful you could feel the spray from pretty far away. I later learned La Paz is the most visited privately-owned ecological attraction in Costa Rica with the most famous waterfalls in Costa Rica, and the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica with over 100 species of animals. You can even stay at the park. https://waterfallgardens.com/la_paz_waterfall_gardens/

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Day Trip Number Three- Manuel Antonio National Park

As we were approaching the town of Quepos, the scenery suddenly changed. This seemed like a town over-run with tourists and there was a restaurant and small hotels or rooms for rent everywhere I looked. Street vendors were selling everything you could think of and it seemed like way too many people piled into this small town. Men were aggressively trying to get us to park in their parking area and sell us day tours. Fortunately Christian, our guide, knew the best spot to park and not overpay. When I asked him how a tourist would know the difference between a legitimate parking lot and an overpriced one, he said simply, “They wouldn’t.” Hmmm. Another reason I was glad we had a reputable tour guide with us.

Christian had to buy our entrance tickets to the park in advance online, as is stated on the park website, https://www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/ac/acopac/pnma/Pages/default.aspx. Entrance fees are $16 for foreigners. No food is allowed in the park but beverages are. The reason for that is the monkeys.

This little white-faced monkey was adorable

Let me just say a word about the monkeys. There are white-faced monkeys, titi monkeys, and howler monkeys in the park. The white-faced monkeys are aggressive (but not in a harmful or scary way) and used to people. When we were walking on the boardwalk to enter the park, a woman was blocking the path of a white-faced monkey and it very comically pushed her aside so it could get past her (she was fine and it didn’t bite her or hurt her in any way; we all laughed). I loved watching the monkeys, especially the white-faced ones since they were running around on the ground in addition to being in the trees so they were easier to see. We also spotted the other monkeys while we were there but they were in the trees and didn’t come down around people.

There are also two-and three-fingered sloths (both of which we saw, and one even was a mama with a baby!!!), coati, raccoons, birds, caymen, and iguanas in the park. There are three species of mangroves, the main beach (Manuel Antonio Beach), Gemelas Beach, Espedilla Sur Beach (with strong waves so be careful), and trails. Plus, there are changing rooms and showers (no soap or shampoo allowed) and drinking water.

We were content to stay at Manuel Antonio Beach the entire time we were at the park and my daughter and I happily jumped the waves (not too high, not too wimpy) for just about the entire time we were at the beach. Christian had gone off for a run to let us have free time on our own and not hover over us but I had his What’s App contact info just in case plus he checked in on us periodically. The day we were there the beach wasn’t overly crowded but was big enough to allow people to spread out and relax under the shade. Even though it was rainy season, the sun shone all day and it was a gorgeous day for the beach.

When we left the park, Christian took us to a small restaurant nearby where he once again knew the people working there and they all treated us like rock stars. We had a table waiting on us and as soon as we were seated, we were given tasty fruit drinks to help cool us off. I have to say a word about the fruit in Costa Rica. It’s some of the freshest I’ve had anywhere, including places like Hawaii. My daughter swears she can never eat pineapple anywhere else than Costa Rica now.

That’s it for our day trips! They were all unique and if I had to pick just one, it would be extremely difficult. The hot springs were amazing but so was Manuel Antonio National Park, as was Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Garden. Christian from Sol Tropical Tours was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had and he helped us experience true Pura Vida of Costa Rica.

Have you been to Costa Rica? If so, where did you go and what did you do? Any advice about when I go back to the Guanacaste region (where I went many years ago)?

Happy travels!

Donna

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